Catch That Bet: 888Sport Launches Pokémon Go-Style Sports Free Plays

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Pokemon sports betting

An online sportsbook is taking a cue from the augmented reality-driven Pokémon Go to offer sports bets that can be hunted, captured and played by punters in a new game.

888Sport quietly launched these “free-play” bets, or gifted money that bettors can use to lay bets without having to pay anything, in select British soccer markets on Aug. 18 via its smartphone app.

A company spokeswoman said the feedback from both clubs and bettors on the ‘Free Bet Hunt’ mode has been overwhelmingly positive, and that 888 is already expanding the idea to other leagues —  and potentially other sports

How ‘Free Bet Hunt’ works

888Sport happens to sponsor four teams in the Sky Bet Championship, the soccer league just below the Barclays Premier League in the United Kingdom’s relegation-style system of tables.

Last month, 888 started using augmented reality technology to deploy bets in and around the stadiums of clubs Birmingham City, Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Preston North End.

Just like in Pokemón Go, where players hunt in real-life locations to find and capture the eponymous creatures, fans can hunt around the venues of the aforementioned teams on game day to capture newly spawned free-play bets. Once they capture the bets, they’re theirs to play.

888 marketing director Sivan Finn Shalev said that bettors could use the free-plays on any contest across any sport featured in 888’s sportsbook, and that there are no rollover restrictions on the bets.

“We saw the hype and success of Pokémon Go and thought that the basis – the idea of searching for things while out and about was really relevant to sports betting,” Shalev said.

“We know our players love the latest technology trends and we are constantly striving to enhance their experience on our sites so this seemed like a great direction.”

888 already expanding AR to other teams, leagues

While not explicitly stated, the implication (and perhaps expectation) of offering the bets on game day outside of a stadium as fans enter is that fans capturing a bet will then use it on the team they’re there to support.

In this way, the offers capitalize on three key factors:

888 would not release exact figures for the total value of free play bets claimed since Free Bet Hunt’s release a month ago. Currently, the free plays are only worth 5 or 10 British pounds, so the liability for 888 is low. As the game expands, however, that could change.

Shalev said 888 has already expanded the use of the free-plays around Premier League stadiums. The Premier League is one of the most heavily bet on sports leagues in the world.

Shalev also said the company was considering expanding the offerings around stadiums of clubs in other sports.

Why AR sports betting won’t work in America

Free Bet Hunt is believed to be the first augmented reality sports betting product. It underscores the growing gap between how sports betting is treated in America versus other more permissive jurisdictions.

While sports fans in the United Kingdom can acquire free-play bets on their mobile device outside a stadium, and even place those bets on their phone inside the stadium, U.S. sports fans aren’t permitted to bet on sports on mobile devices anywhere outside Nevada.

And within Nevada, the set-up and funding of mobile accounts can be burdensome and require in-person account verification. The Nevada Gaming Commission is currently sussing out revisions to regulations to make this process easier.

But even the allocation to Nevada of the state’s first franchise from one of the four major sports leagues doesn’t appear to be changing attitudes toward mobile sports betting or in-arena betting.

Betting on the NHL’s Vegas franchise an all or nothing proposition

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently said that his league “won’t make it easy” for bettors to put money down on a game in Las Vegas, and that hockey doesn’t lend itself to betting like other sports do.

If it chooses to do so, the league has until 30 days before the start of a Nevada-based team’s competition to formally request the NGC prohibit betting on events involving that team.

With the Vegas-based NHL franchise not set to begin play until the Fall of 2017, sports betting operators have likely not yet decided if they’ll develop new hyper-local products like 888 has.

But the league, regulators and fans will need to reconcile the fact that, even if Vegas books don’t offer a product like Free Bet Hunt in 2017, several physical sportsbooks are still located within a short walk from the stadium where the Vegas franchise will play.

The same would possibly be true of a potential new NFL stadium to court the Oakland Raiders to the city.

Thus, if the NHL does not file a formal request to prohibit betting on the Vegas franchise statewide, the advent of mobile betting and the proximity of physical sports books will make it difficult to limit any form of betting on the team.

What’s also unclear: Whether fans with approved mobile sports betting accounts will be allowed to use their accounts on their smartphones inside the stadiums.

In Europe, betting kiosks line the concourses of many large stadiums to cater to bettors. This will almost certainly not be the case in T-Mobile Arena, where the Vegas NHL franchise will play. 

Is AR a fad or the next big thing?

In Europe, South America and Asia, 888 could theoretically expand Free Bet Hunt to cover all events across all sports.

The product could also adapt beyond free-play bets to include other in-store items, or to virtual currencies pertaining to 888’s non-sports products.

Instead of calling scalability into question, it might be more relevant to ask if AR-products in general are on the rise, or if they’re a short-term fad.

Pokémon Go earned $206.5 million in revenues and set a Guinness World Record with 130 million downloads in its first month of release.

According to MarketingWeek, that particular game is not merely a fad. Brands outside of the gaming space are jumping at the opportunity to integrate augmented reality into their product promotion.

The publication suggests that the very adoption of AR-driven technology by companies like 888 is ensuring that remains beyond any initial “fad” phase.

AR appears to be especially popular in Britain, where MW found more than 13 percent of the population has downloaded the app. Of those 6.1 million people, 5.3 million were still playing the game six weeks after its July 14 release.

And while Business Insider notes the number of monthly active users are falling for the game, it’s doing so much more slowly than mobile games normally do.

As more consumers get used to interacting with a product in an AR-driven construct as opposed to a physical, brick-and-mortar construct, it appears 888’s sports betting product has ample room for growth.